Canadians often take great pride in being “nice”, especially in contrast to our American neighbours (who presumably are “less nice”?).
But is our self-perception true? Or is it just fake news?
Bryor Snefjella, Daniel Schmidtke and Victor Kuperman decided to put that question to the test. They decided to compare the language Canadians and Americans use, to see what that tells about our collective character.
The researchers took to Twitter and analyzed 40 million tweets to see how well stereotypes of Americans and Canadians stood up to reality.
Before looking at what they found, let’s take a moment to consider what a stereotype is. The very idea of stereotypes is not popular these days. The problem is that not everybody fits the stereotype. There is a huge difference between the “typical” Canadian and me. Or than you. Or than Mrs. Bradley down the street.
However, most stereotypes have a basis in reality. We use stereotypes to make sense of our world without having to evaluate every person we meet. We would exhaust ourselves trying. And marketing campaigns cannot be designed around each individual, so they have to seek some overall national character traits.
In the same way, each of us tweets differently. But a sample size of 40 million tweets can tell us what typical Canadian and American language says about typical Canadians and Americans.
Let’s cut the suspense. They don’t say that Canadians are nicer. They do say that Canadians are happier.
As one might expect, the language of Canadians and Americans was not all that different. What the study looked at were the words that appeared significantly more often in tweets from one country or the other. Words that were used to a similar degree were removed. This study was not intended to measure how different or how similar people are in the two countries. It was intended to measure in what way they are different.
The researchers also removed tweets that looked like bots or were commercial in nature. Only accounts with less than one link per tweet were studied, for instance.
Canadian tweets tended to have more of these words:
These were the top 10 most characteristically Canadian words, meaning that they were used much more by Canadians than by Americans. In 12th place was “Shawn”, by the way. Yeah, I’m scratching my head about that one, too.
In contrast, the most characteristically American words were: